Oklahoma farm boy revolutionized the dairy cattle genetics industry

John Oncken

Last week I asked the question – Do you know any one who changed the world? I then wrote about just such a person: Dr. Robert E. “Bob” Walton longtime president of internationally famed ABS (American Breeders Service) at DeForest, Wis..

My son and I spent a couple hours with Dr. Walton at his farmhouse near DeForest where he presented me with a copy of his recently published book View From The Bull’s Eye.

Bob Walton's senior high school picture.

Oklahoma farm boy

We followed Walton from his home farm at Shattuck, Oklahoma to Arkansas where the family had bought a farm. He completed his senior year in high school at Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

On to college

Then it was off to Oklahoma A&M (later to become Oklahoma State) where he was active in all things agriculture.

After graduation Walton learned about an international study program and seized the opportunity to attend the Royal Agriculture College in Sweden.

“It was a stroke of luck” Walton says, “as Iver Johansson a faculty member was known as the outstanding geneticist in Europe and he played a very major role in my career.”

Bob Walton, left, competed on the 1951 judging team for Oklahoma State.

Farm Manager

After finishing the school year and traveling much of Europe, Walton visited Westhide Hereford farm where he ended up staying for a year and a half after a series of events resulted in his becoming farm manager.

Upon returning home, Walton visited Oklahoma State and found out he could get a scholarship to study for a Master of Science degree which he accepted and began in January 1955.  He soon found himself short of money, and as he had done on several occasions, found a job. This time as a roughneck in a Colorado oilfield.

After two years of working in oilfields and studying, Walton received his degree and qualified for a scholarship to continue his studies toward a PhD at Iowa State University where he became a student of Dr. Jay Lush.

Oklahoma A&M in 1950.  The name was later changed in 1957 to Oklahoma State University of Agricultural and Applied Sciences, to reflect the broadening scope of its curriculum.

The new theory

Lush was an Iowa farm boy with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin who had worked at a Texas research station where he was using math applications to analyze field data to evaluate genetic effects.  About 1930, Lush went to Iowa State where he and others were studying statistics applications to biological data. 

“This was a remarkable group who have maintained a worldwide connection,” Walton says. “The world of animal breeding today traces to the concepts and applications developed by Dr. Lush, his students and their students. I was the lucky one who had the good fortune and fun of putting these ideas into practice at a major cattle breeding company.”

The change that went worldwide

Ivar Johansson who taught Walton at the Royal Agricultural College was one of those. He taught the course Animal Breeding and Genetics.

"It was my notes from is this course that I later in 1962 created the formula for EDS (Estimated Daughter Superiority) which the USDA  adopted in 1965 with a new name – Predicted Difference – that went worldwide and was utilized in the cattle breeding field.”

Late in 1958, Walton was offered a position at the University of Kentucky even though he had not finished his Ph.D. thesis. He often drove back to Iowa State to work on that thesis and during one such visit he met a “lovely young lady," Janice Graning from Sioux City, Iowa. They were married in September 1959 and moved to Lexington.

The UK-1959 Dairy Judging team, won the national contest at Waterloo.

ABS calls

After several years at UK and much success with his dairy judging team, Walton was contacted by ABS about a new position as the first professional geneticist in the industry, would he be interested?      

He wasn’t. But after much conversation and some better offers, Walton joined ABS in July 1962.

His book, View From The Bull’s Eye, which he wrote with collaborating author Ron Eustice, is packed with information about Walton, dairying and changing the way cattle are analyzed for future generations and I have barely  touched the content. Get a copy at Amazon. It’s not cheap but so worth it.

Bob Walton spent many years writing this book and another to come.

John Oncken can be found at